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Opening Arguments

The write stuff

I was one of those who both preached the virtues of cursive writing and criticized as misguided efforts by the General Assembly to mandate its teaching. Perhaps the mandate attempt wasn't so misguided after all:

Yet scientists are discovering that learning cursive is an important tool for cognitive development, particularly in training the brain to learn “functional specialization,”[2] that is capacity for optimal efficiency. In the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of brain become co-activated during learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice.

There is spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. Students have to pay attention and think about what and how they are doing it. They have to practice. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.

Much of the benefit of hand writing in general comes simply from the self-generated mechanics of drawing letters. During one study at Indiana University to be published this year,[3] researchers conducted brain scans on pre-literate 5-year olds before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced self-generated printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and "adult-like" than in those who had simply looked at letters. The brain’s “reading circuit” of linked regions that are activated during reading was activated during hand writing, but not during typing. This lab has also demonstrated that writing letters in meaningful context, as opposed to just writing them as drawing objects, produced much more robust activation of many areas in both hemispheres.

I suspect there is such value to a lot of the traditional practices of teaching that we are giving up one after the other. With the sheer volume of information available and the ease with which it can be accessed, memorization has long been out of fashion. But I remember staying up nights to memorize my lines in one play or another in high school and believing my thinking was a lot sharper during those play periods, my ability to score high on a test much greater. I suspect memorization stretches our mental muscles in a way similar to how learning cursive does.